Beechview man pleads guilty to poisoning stray cats for pooping in his yard
A Beechview man pleaded guilty Monday in Allegheny County Court to using mothballs to poison and kill six cats from a stray “colony” his neighbors were caring for because he was tired of the cats pooping in his yard and on the sidewalk.
Daniel T. Smith, 44, pleaded guilty to six counts of animal cruelty, a first-degree misdemeanor, before Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski. The judge will impose a sentence Dec. 7. Smith faces up to 5 years in prison on each count.
Smith’s attorney, Sally Frick, declined to comment on the case except to note that napthalene, the poison found in some of the dead cats, was a common ingredient in mothballs available for purchase around the country.
According to a criminal complaint by Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey, Smith placed two dead cats in a neighbor’s trash can in July 2015. Neighbors recognized the dead cats as coming from the group of stray cats they cared for, the complaint said. A third cat from the group appeared to be sick and was euthanized at a veterinarian’s office.
All but a few of the cats in the colony, two of which were tame enough for the neighbors to take into their home, eventually died or disappeared. They had previously been captured, vaccinated, tagged and re-released through Animal Friends.
In an argument about a month and a half later, Smith allegedly told one of the neighbors, “I killed six or eight of your cats, and I’ll kill the rest of them,” the complaint said.
Luffey wrote that she interviewed Smith and he complained about the stray cats his neighbors had been feeding, and said he was tired of finding cat poop on his sidewalk and in his yard.
“It’s not illegal for me to own mothballs and put them in my yard. … If the cats stepped on or ate mothballs and poison got into their body, it’s not my problem,” Smith said, according to Luffey’s complaint.
Even if the cats were feral, Luffey told him, poisoning them was illegal. She told him that he should have called Animal Control or used non-lethal traps to capture the cats and turn them over to shelters, the complaint said.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office crime lab agreed to test samples from one of the dead cats’ stomachs and found it contained napthalene, which is poisonous to cats if ingested.
Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, said Smith’s charges predated the toughening of Pennsylvania’s animal-cruelty laws that took effect this summer. Identical circumstances would now result in a felony charge, Manko said.